Tuesday, November 24, 2009
DFL GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE DEBATE, NOVEMBER 24, 2009
I attended a DFL gubernatorial debate tonight. It was in Hopkins at the Center for the Arts. It was a long way for me to drive with a car that is dangerous to take on the freeway. I work downtown St. Paul, so after work I took Grand Avenue to Snelling to Marshall to Lake Street to Excelsior Boulevard. Boy, I thought, this better be worth it.
It was. The audience was alert with high energy. Some were keyed up for their favorite candidate. Others were undecided and willing to listen to all eleven of them and give each one a chance.
The trouble is that most of the candidates agree on most of the issues. There are a few differences. Most of those differences are related to personalities and presentation skills.
The format of this debate was very different that what we're used to. That's because there are eleven candidates. Three came on at a time, then one would leave the stage and be replaced by another. The moderator pulled a question out of a fishbowl and asked one candidate to answer it; then the second candidate and finally the third. Each candidate got a total of two or three minutes per question, although often in increments of 30 seconds, 60 seconds or 90 minutes, with the remaining time used later.
Ole Savior was the first to speak. I'm still not sure why he's running. I've heard that he runs for everything. Apparently he even ran for president. He never has a chance of winning. His biggest goals are to bring a new stadium to Minnesota for the Vikings, to turn the State Fair into an ongoing, daily endeavor and to put back everything that T-Paw took away. He did say that he considers Mark Dayton to be his friend, which surprised me, since he tried to sue Dayton when the latter was running for the U. S. Senate. Ole's biggest crutch word is tsk. He had short answers to all the questions and never took the entire amount of time allotted to him. Again, I'm not sure why he's running. He knows he doesn't have a chance of winning. Sounds like a waste of his time and money.
Susan Gaertner was next. Her crutch words are um, er and ah. Usually too many crutch words draws the audience away from the speaker's message, but Gaertner is interesting enough to make up for it. We now know that she's a karoke singer and a former soccer mom. She also told us that she's running for governor because she now has an empty nest. I can certainly relate to that. Maybe I should run for governor. Gaertner says she has three goals that are her priorities: fixing the education financing system; health care reform; getting results. Too bad she wasn't more specific. All the candidates want to do those things. Gaertner doesn't have any fresh ideas. All she knows is that she can get it done because she got things done as the Ramsey County Attorney. I'm taking her off my top four favorites list. She's a nice lady and I like her style, but she's missing the ingredients necessary for the governorship. Gaertner had better stage presence in her closing statement than she did earlier. She compared this format of the debate to a police lineup. Her mantra was that she can get it done. Gaertner mentioned that she's not well known and she doesn't run in the circles that Mark Dayton does, but she can get things done. What circles that Dayton runs in is she talking about? The wealthy? The upper echelons of political society? It seems to me that people are just people. A good communicator can feel comfortable being around anyone. We're all born the same way and we all die with nothing. I'm not sure what Gaertner's point was.
Mark Dayton was the third speaker. Tonight was the best I've ever heard him other than when he does one-on-one interviews with such media outlets as The Uptake. Usually he doesn't seem as comfortable before larger audiences, especially ones he's not sure of. Tonight, though, he excelled. He was perfect. I couldn't find many crutch words, either. Just an occasional hesitation. And a mike that seemed to have a slight problem. He knew just how to handle it though and got it working right away each of the three times that happened. Dayton was the first candidate tonight who stepped right out from behind the lectern in his opening statement. He appeared confident. Indeed, he seemed confident throughout the entire debate. He spoke with the voice of authority and experience. His goal is to tax the rich in order to restore public services such as education. He says the rich can afford it. He ought to know. Of course his family probably won't vote for him, but Dayton is the kind of person who will put the people of Minnesota before his family's votes. Dayton also said that he will be the education governor for this state. He so obviously knew far more about this topic than any of the other candidates. After all, he taught school in an inner city neighborhood in New York when he was right out of college. I noticed that again tonight several of the other candidates agreed with what Dayton said and referred back to his position on some of the issues. Of the three candidates who stood at the three lecterns for the first set of questions, Mark Dayton definitely won. In his closing statement, he related his experience of living with a welfare family while teaching school in that inner city school. He said the experience profoundly and fundamentally changed his values and his outlook on life. It seems to me that his entire life since then substantiates his claim. Dayton does, however, overuse the phrase profoundly and fundamentally wrong. Try wording it a bit different just for variety. All in all, though, Dayton was in top form tonight. He can easily win this election.
Tom Bakk presented very strongly and firmly. He said that his biggest priority is to restore GAMC. He then went on a tangent about how he was a carpenter. He says this so much, at every forum I've been to, that it suddenly dawned on me that maybe he keeps doing it so we'll think he's like that other carpenter of 2000 years ago. Bakk still talks like he's very angry about something. I'm not sure if he is or if that's just the way he presents himself. On the other hand, there's lots of angry people because of the mess our state is in. In his closing statement, Bakk said that this election will be a lot like when Rudy Perpich got elected during a recession. When the economy is bad, people tend to vote Democratic.
Matt Entenza has a wonderful manner about him. He's got quite the congenial voice. He can add humor but just sprinkles it here and there among his serious statements. Matt's priorities are clean energy. For mass transit, he wants light rail, heavy rail and bus. He reiterated what I've heard him say before...Entenza is Norwegian for governor. Seems like most of the candidates say the same jokes at every forum. It's a new day and a new audience, although there are many who attend all the forums and debates. It's time for the candidates to find new jokes. In Matt's closing statement, he did the "when I was fifteen my dad was an alcoholic and ran off and left our family destitute" routine. He's grateful for the opportunities he was given and now wants to give back to Minnesotans. Perhaps if he could just change the story a bit so it's not exactly the same at each forum. Tell the audience a bit more about what those opportunites were. Matt does have a nice voice to listen to...almost as nice as Dayton's.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher was next. There's nothing humble about her. She makes sure everyone knows what she has accomplished in the legislature. There are those who think it hasn't been all that much. And by the way, she grew up on a farm. Did you know that? Talk about overplay. Tonight she said, "I have a plan for education in Minnesota." She talks in a la la sing song voice. I wanted to take a choir director's baton and direct her. I just can't stand to listen to her for very long. I'm not really sure why, as for all practical purposes she's a very good speaker as far as enunication, volume, vocal variety...she gets all the technicalities right. I think it's her mannerisms that annoy me. Kelliher said she thinks Minnesotans want a governor they can connect with and who understands them. I don't think she's the best person for this. I don't think she could understand anyone outside her own experiences. She keeps boasting of her own endorsements. I don't think they're enough to get her elected. I know there are a lot of women who will vote for her simply because she's a woman and they think it's time Minnesota had its first female governor. I don't think that's a good enough reason to elect someone. Also, Kelliher made a comment that sounded as though she wants to combine MDH and DHS, or at least their resources. What a bad idea. In Kelliher's closing statement, she told an anecdote of a man who thanked her for his job. He said he got his job because of Kelliher's influence in the legislature. Is it true? I don't know; she didn't give any details.
Steve Kelley was way too loud again. It sounded like he was yelling at the audience. Kelley says he can connect with suburban voters the best. He's out to get all the DFL votes of the Southwest Metro as well as the Independent swing votes. He thinks that everyone in America should have access to affordable health care. His reform issue is health care cost. Kelley doesn't really connect with the audience. Tonight he claimed, "I am the best candidate for governor because I'm rooted in the community." (I knew my ears were going bad because I thought he had said, "I'm rude in the community." In his closing statement he said he was going to invite Governor Pawlenty to take his class on budgeting, but Pawlenty didn't have the prerequisites for the course. This got some laughter from the audience.
John Marty is excellent on health care. I wish he would quit yelling about it though. Between him and Steve Kelley, my ears hurt. Marty said again tonight that health care should be like police and fire services; guaranteed access for everyone. He also wants to tackle poverty in Minnesota. I'm sure there are a lot of Minnesotans who would give him theirs. I don't think John Marty can get elected as governor. The audience doesn't like him nearly as much as Dayton, Entenza, Rybak or Thissen. On charter schools, Marty said they have a role to play in Minnesota's educational system, but we shouldn't overdo them. In closing, Marty said he knows we can build a great state. He wants us to know that he is the candidate with courage and vision.
Tom Rukavina is running for governor because he hates the way our state is currently going and he thinks he can fix it. All the candidates think they can fix it, but I think there are only a handful who actually can. Tom's big thing is biofuels and the University's mineral rights. He says he lived a simple life as a blue collar worker and has been an organic farmer for 35 years. Rukavina had the audience laughing hard again tonight. In one segment when he followed Kelley, he said, "Sometimes I just want to go after Kelley, but I won't abandon party principles." The audience howled because Rukavina is only 5'3" while Kelley is well over six feet. He created a humorous visual in the minds of the audience members. He also reiterated that he is a love child between Jesse Ventura and Paul Wellstone. See, he needs a new one-liner. After stating how so many people have to make do with less as a result of the current administration, he quipped, "I'm 5'3". I've been doing more with less all my life." In closing, Rukavina said that he has a record of being innovative. His campaign, he said, is refreshingly honest. He used to say that it was brutally honest, but changed it for PR reasons. When it was time for the moderator to tell Rukavina to leave the stage, he said "I don't want to." The audience cracked up.
R.T. Rybak wants to bring innovation back into the charter schools. He claimed that in Minneapolis, he sold the idea of investing in the public schools to corporations. That sounds like a great idea. Rybak likes to look kids in the eye and give them personal responsibility for their own lives. Another good idea. Rybak's closing was designed to show Minnesotans have core values and that we're all in this together. Again tonight Mayor Rybak gave an excellent presentation with more than viable speaking skills. Rybak will be a tough candidate to beat. He's got positive experience as mayor of Minneapolis plus he's well liked by a lot of people.
Paul Thissen acknowledged that Minnesota has some excellent teachers and that kids are learning amazing things. He then moved on to the challenges that our educational system faces. He wants to close the achievement gaps of the kids. Mostly, he wants to move the old ideas out to make room for new and innovative ideas. It was apparent that he was trying to get people to vote for him, the young fresh idealistic face, rather than someone older like Dayton or Rukavina. Thissen should never underestimate the voice of experience. Thissen says he'll appoint commissioners who have both experience and passion. He's young and idealistic. Give him a few years. In his closing statement he told the audience how he passed in the legislature a moral vision regarding health care for children.
This was an interesting debate. I think a lot of audience members have narrowed down the choices in their own minds. I know I have. Here's my top picks in order of preference:
I look forward to attending more of these debates and forums. The next one will be on Thursday December 3 from 5:30 to 8:30 at CWA Local 7200 Hall, 3521 East Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Now on with the show...er, I mean campaigns.